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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 163 Part I, 25 August 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 163 Part I, 25 August 1998 A daily report of developments in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia prepared by the staff of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. This is Part I, a compilation of news concerning Russia, Transcaucasia and Central Asia. Part II covers Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe and is distributed simultaneously as a second document. Back issues of RFE/RL Newsline and the OMRI Daily Digest are online at RFE/RL's Web site: http://www.rferl.org/newsline xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * CHERNOMYRDIN TO FORM COALITION GOVERNMENT * FATE OF NEW GOVERNMENT, DUMA TIED * UN WITHDRAWS SOME PERSONNEL FROM TAJIKISTAN End Note: LATVIA TO HOLD REFERENDUM ON CITIZENSHIP LAW AMENDMENTS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA CHERNOMYRDIN TO FORM COALITION GOVERNMENT. Acting Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and the heads of parliamentary factions, including Communist Party chief Gennadii Zyuganov, agreed on 24 August to form a coalition government. According to Interfax, State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev said that a "trilateral" commission composed of members of the government and both houses of the parliament will draw up two documents, a plan for overcoming the economic crisis and a "political treaty" between the executive and the legislature. Based on when these documents are drawn up, the Duma Council will decide when it can hold its plenary session to consider Chernomyrdin's candidacy for prime minister. The Duma Council will meet on 28 August. Seleznev told NTV that each Duma faction will meet individually with Chernomyrdin to propose candidates for government positions. JAC FATE OF NEW GOVERNMENT, DUMA TIED. In an interview with Ekho Moskvy, Communist Party leader Zyuganov explained that although Russia has already experienced a coalition government under former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, who had two ministers from Yabloko, the new government will be fundamentally different. According to Zyuganov, Chernomyrdin has proposed that the "majority of the Duma back a specific program" and that they "will be responsible for the composition of the government." He added that "the majority of the Duma will remember every time it adopts a law that it backed this government and is responsible for its policies. If the government fails, they [the Duma deputies] will also fail." At the same time, Zyuganov reiterated calls for a nationwide strike on 7 October to demand that President Boris Yeltsin resign and a government of "popular trust" be created. JAC OUR HOME IS RUSSIA TRIES TO WOO YAVLINSKII. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 22 August reported that leader of the Russia is Our Home (NDR) faction, Aleksandr Shokhin, offered to arrange that Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii be offered the post of Duma speaker in exchange for his support of Chernomyrdin's candidacy. According to the newspaper, NDR realizes that it must attract Yabloko into a new parliamentary majority made up of the NDR, the Communist Party, Russia's Regions, and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. Yabloko's popularity has grown since the last elections, and the movement could attract the supporters of two presidential hopefuls, Krasnoyarsk governor Aleksandr Lebed and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov. Sergei Ivanenko, a Yabloko deputy, dismissed Shokhin's offer with laughter and the counterproposal that Chernomyrdin be speaker and Yavlinskii prime minister. JAC REGIONAL HEADS EXPRESS RESIGNATION, MILD SUPPORT... Most regional leaders, whether for or against Chernomyrdin, believe that he will be confirmed by the Duma--though not necessarily without a fight. Saratov governor Dmitrii Ayatskov, is pessimistic about Chernomyrdin's return to government: "Viktor Stepanovich [Chernomyrdin] spent six years trying to improve the economy--all in vain," according to Interfax. Kemerovo governor Aman Tuleev is similarly gloomy. He said, "Russia is not Italy where the people have been seasoned by frequent government shake-ups. The situation in Russia is so complicated that a social explosion is inevitable." Krasnoyarsk governor Lebed said that the crisis in Russia requires a "political heavyweight," such as Chernomyrdin, and that Yeltsin's support is "understandable since there is no attractive alternative." Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev and Arkhangelsk governor Anatolii Yefremov both expressed confidence that the former prime minister will be able to ease the country's political crisis. JAC ...AND SOME REGRETS. Tambov governor Aleksandr Ryabov says that the regional leaders need to accept some of the blame for the current economic crisis. He told ITAR-TASS that "often documents that are adopted by the Federation Council were not even read by the representatives." During a press conference after his dismissal, former Prime Minister Kirienko revealed that he had apparently experienced his own share of frustration with Russia's regional leadership. He had prepared a draft law, which he had intended to submit to the Duma, that would have given him the power to remove regional governors and grant other governors the power to sack mayors in order to ensure "a strict top-down line of power in the country." JAC CHERNOMYRDIN TO BACK BANKING REFORM? Chernomyrdin said on 24 August that sorting out the nation's banking system and ensuring the stability of the ruble will be chief priorities of his administration. In the meantime, Russian banks continued their efforts at consolidation. According to Interfax on 24 August, Inkombank and the National Reserve Bank formed an integrated banking group, pending shareholder approval, which would have combined assets of more than $45 billion rubles ($6.30 billion) and equity capital of more than $6.5 billion rubles. JAC YELTSIN TO RETIRE? The Russian press on 24 August carried various stories about President Boris Yeltsin's imminent withdrawal from the country's top leadership post. Interfax quoted "a high ranking expert in the Kremlin" who claimed that Yeltsin had declared his intention not to run for president again in 2000. That "expert" cited Yeltsin's televised statement that he offered Chernomyrdin the post of prime minister "to ensure the succession of power in 2000." Duma chairman Seleznev said that he understood Yeltsin's "ambiguous statement" to mean the "prime minister will be acting head of state in the event of Yeltsin leaving office before the end of his term." Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told reporters the same day that Yeltsin "was in his normal shape" and has "no complaints." JAC AND NEMTSOV TO REST? Former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov offered his resignation on 24 August, claiming that he has no plans other than to take a vacation. He said that he will not run for mayor in the upcoming elections in Nizhnii Novgorod. In an interview with "Komsomolskaya Pravda" on 25 August, he predicted that if the "oligarchic empires" are not forced to pay taxes, then the reins of government will pass to the left, which "knows little except how to print money." Inflation will spiral and a "revolutionary situation will arise," he added. JAC VOLGOGRAD FARMERS APPEAL TO MOSCOW. "Vremya MN" reported on 21 August that leaders of six rural districts in the Trans- Volga region have for the first time bypassed their regional administrators and asked President Yeltsin for assistance in alleviating the aftermath of a severe drought (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 1998). The drought destroyed the bulk of the region's grain harvest. The leaders warn starvation and social unrest will result if the region does not receive some sort of financial assistance. The rural district heads voiced their distrust for the governor of Volgograd, a member of the Communist Party. They claim that their region received funds from the federal budget until he came to power. JAC CALL TO ARMS IN RYBINSK. "Izvestiya" reported on 25 August that an unknown organization distributed leaflets urging the population of Rybinsk, a large industrial city in the Yaroslavl region, to take up arms. The newspaper quotes Asfira Pushkarnaya, an adviser to the governor of Yaroslavl Oblast, who said that although no one took the call literally, the situation in the region remains tense. Employees of state-run enterprises are owed back wages totaling 52 million rubles ($7.2 million). JAC RUSSIAN AIRFIELDS TO CLOSE. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 21 August that more than 70 airfields would be closed as part of the Air Force's larger effort to streamline its operations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 1998). According to the Defense Ministry, some 80 airfields with runways longer than 1800 meters will remain open. The airfields' closure may free scarce budget funds for the maintenance and reconstruction of the remaining airfields, the bulk of which were constructed during the 1950s through 1970s and have exceeded their expected service life. JAC NEW CHECHEN SECURITY CHIEF APPOINTED. President Aslan Maskhadov on 24 August named Ibragim Khultygov to head the National Security Service, Russian agencies reported. Khultygov is the brother of former National Security Service chief Lecha Khultygov, who was shot dead in a standoff with field commander Salman Raduev in Grozny two months ago. Maskhadov also signed a decree releasing former acting Prime Minister Shamil Basaev as deputy commander-in-chief of the Chechen armed forces. Basaev accepted that post in July for the duration of the state of emergency imposed by Maskhadov on 23 June. Also on 24 August, the Chechen parliament assessed as "unsatisfactory" the work of Basaev's cabinet from December 1997 to July 1998, when Basaev stepped down as acting premier. The parliament recommended that Maskhadov dismiss the entire government. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA UN WITHDRAWS SOME PERSONNEL FROM TAJIKISTAN. The UN observers' mission in Tajikistan released a statement on 24 August announcing it will temporarily withdraw some of its personnel from Tajikistan and has suspended "non-essential" visits to the country by UN employees, ITAR-TASS reported. A political adviser to the UN observers told ITAR-TASS the decision affects those who were monitoring the peace process in areas outside Dushanbe until 20 July, when four employees of the UN were killed in a remote area in central Tajikistan. Although the Tajik government and United Tajik Opposition say they know who the guilty parties are, there have been no announcements to date that anyone has been brought to Dushanbe to face charges. ITAR-TASS on 25 August, quotes "a representative of the Tajik government" as saying it is the lack of success in extraditing the alleged perpetrators of the crime from UTO-held territory that has prompted the UN move. BP KAZAKH PREMIER SAYS NO REDUCTION IN OIL PRODUCTION. Nurlan Balgimbayev said while visiting the western town of Uralsk that the country will not cut oil production in 1998, Interfax reported on 24 August. Balgimbayev said he is aware that oil prices are the lowest in 30 years, but he added that Kazakhstan will still produce 27 million tons this year, of which nearly 15 million will be exported. Balgimbayev noted that the country could produce up to 220 million tons a year but added that only "once the price is up will we increase oil production." The premier said that a number of pipeline projects are currently under review, and he noted that "if the political situation in Afghanistan stabilizes," a pipeline via that country to the Arabian Sea is a possibility. Balgimbayev stressed the importance of the oil industry, saying it "provides over 30 percent of budget revenues." BP KYRGYZSTAN WILL GUARD ITS OWN BORDERS. Bolot Januzakov, an official in the presidential administration, said at a press briefing on 24 August that beginning next year, Kyrgyzstan will start forming its own border service to replace Russian border guards, ITAR-TASS reported. Finance Minister Talaibek Koichumanov said on 21 August that 63 million som (about $3.3 million) has been allotted from the state budget for this purpose, RFE/RL correspondents reported. The move comes after a 21 August visit by Russian Border Guard director Colonel-General Nikolai Bordyuzha and is in keeping with an earlier bilateral agreement. But before Bordyuzha's arrival in Kyrgyzstan, ITAR-TASS on 21 August quoted him as saying "there will be no serious reduction or withdrawal of Russian border guards from Kyrgyzstan in the near future." Since 1992, Russian border guards have been helping provide security along the China-Kyrgyz border, at the national airport outside Bishkek, and along the Tajik-Kyrgyz border. BP EU WELCOMES ARMENIAN PARTICIPATION IN TRACECA CONFERENCE. Dennis Corboy, EU ambassador to the three Transcaucasus states, told journalists in Yerevan on 24 August that the EU welcomes the Armenian leadership's decision to send a government delegation to Baku to participate in the 7-8 September conference on the TRACECA transport corridor, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. But Corboy admitted that unresolved conflicts in the Transcaucasus could prove an obstacle to implementation of the TRACECA project, which is sponsored by the EU. He called for talks aimed at resolving the Karabakh conflict to be resumed within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group. LF TWO KILLED IN WEST GEORGIAN BOMB EXPLOSION. Two people were killed on 24 August and 60 injured when part of the regional administration building in the west Georgian town of Zugdidi was destroyed by a bomb, Caucasus Press reported. Most of those injured were fugitives from neighboring Abkhazia's Gali Raion. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze condemned the blast as "an act masterminded and executed by enemies of Georgia." He added that it "will not change the Georgian people's determination to build an independent and democratic state," ITAR-TASS reported. LF GEORGIA CLOSES FRONTIER WITH ARMENIA? Georgian border troops are refusing to allow Armenian citizens to enter Georgia, Noyan Tapan reported on 24 August, quoting an Armenian Agriculture Ministry official. Two days earlier, Georgia had banned the import of cattle, poultry, and dairy products from Armenia because of an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease there. LF END NOTE LATVIA TO HOLD REFERENDUM ON CITIZENSHIP LAW AMENDMENTS by Jan Cleave Two months after the passage of amendments to the country's citizenship law, the Latvian Central Electoral Committee has announced that an initiative by the nationalist-inclined Fatherland and Freedom party to hold a referendum on those amendments has been successful. By 24 August, the committee had counted some 224,000 signatures, well over the 131,000--or 10 percent of the electorate-- required to force a referendum. The final result of the campaign will be announced once signatures from abroad are included in the tally. Meanwhile, the fate of the citizenship law amendments continues to hang in the balance- -a state of affairs that will not help improve Latvia's tense relations with neighboring Russia. Latvia's treatment of its approximately 650,000-strong ethnic Russian and Russian-speaking minority has long been a source of discord between Moscow and Riga. Basing its law on the principle that it was occupied and did not have to give citizenship to those who were moved there by the occupying authorities, Latvia renewed the citizenship of those who had it in 1940 and also that of their descendants. Many of those who fell into these two categories were ethnically Russian. The Russian government has rejected Latvia's interpretation of its political history and argued that Latvia's citizenship law is intended to withhold citizenship from the many people, primarily but not exclusively ethnically Russian, who moved to Latvia between 1940 and 1991. And Moscow has consistently argued that this "deprivation" constitutes ethnic discrimination. Latvia's citizenship law was passed in 1994, following extensive debates and disagreement among the coalition parties. The legislation came under fire not only from Russia but also from international organizations such as the OSCE, which urged Riga to adopt amendments in line with its recommendations. But with a ruling coalition that includes groups willing at times to play the nationalist card, it quickly became apparent that the government parties were unable to agree among themselves on how to amend the law. Ironically, the passage of the amendments was expedited by an event earlier this year that outraged Moscow and revealed just how fragile Latvian-Russian relations are. On 3 March, some 1,000, mostly Russian-speaking pensioners blocked the main road in downtown Riga to protest living standards. When several protesters refused to move off that road, police used rubber batons to disperse them. Footage of those events shown by Russian Public Television sparked an outcry in Moscow, with politicians of all stripes calling for retaliatory measures. Just six weeks later, the Cooperation Council of the ruling coalition parties reached an agreement whereby the law would be amended to remove the "naturalization windows" (which gave priority to younger people), simplify language tests for people over 65, and grant citizenship to all children born after 21 August 1991 when they reach 16 and can prove their ability to speak Latvian. But while the last provision was supported by the Fatherland and Freedom party, which is the largest party in the parliament, it did not meet the OSCE recommendation that children born in Latvia be automatically granted citizenship, regardless of language proficiency. An amended version of the law that complied with the OSCE recommendation was finally pushed through the parliament in the third and final reading in mid-June. Since then, the signing into law of the amendments has been on hold, thanks to the initiative of the Fatherland and Freedom party, supported by the constitutionally required one-third of parliamentary deputies, to collect signatures for a referendum. Prime Minister Guntars Krasts of the Fatherland and Freedom Party, who signed the referendum petition just days before the signature- collecting campaign ended, argues that the amendments were passed without a broad public debate and that the best way to judge public opinion is through a popular vote. President Guntis Ulmanis and Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs, in particular, have been vocal opponents of such a ballot, arguing that it will further damage relations with Russia and also jeopardize Latvia's chances of joining the EU. But the referendum will not only impact on Latvia's relations with its eastern neighbor and on its image abroad. It is also set to make citizenship and minority-majority relations a campaign issue in the run-up to the parliamentary elections scheduled for 3 October. That, observers note, will have the effect of both keeping alive and turning the full public spotlight onto an issue that has deeply divided Latvian society. Moreover, with only the two- thirds majority population able to cast its vote, the referendum itself is likely to stir up animosity within the disenfranchised one-third minority. The Fatherland and Freedom Party, meanwhile, has made it clear that it wants the referendum to take place at the same time as the elections. Such a scenario would likely encourage more people to take part in the ballot. The party is also concerned that if the vote were to take place on a separate day, there may not be the necessary turnout of 50 percent of the electorate. Indeed, the timing of the referendum may well prove crucial to the validity of the ballot. If the vote does not take place until after the elections -- and the chairman of the Central Electoral Committee has already come out in favor of that option -- voters may be required to cast their ballot twice within a short period. Experience shows that in such cases, election-weariness among voters frequently determines the outcome of the second ballot. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx HOW TO SUBSCRIBE Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word subscribe as the subject of the message. 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